2013 SXSW Review: SPRING BREAKERS

By Mark Saldana 

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Given Harmony Korine’s reputation for making dark and often bizarre films, I really didn’t know what to expect from his latest entry.  Considering that former Disney actresses were cast in lead roles made any kind of real expectations nearly impossible. Now as for audiences unfamiliar with Korine’s previous work and only familiar with Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez and James Franco, they will be in for a huge surprise.  In fact, I might suggest looking into some of Harmony Korine’s past work before paying to see this film because, depending on one’s tastes, it may not be a pleasant surprise.

Spring Breakers tells a dark and wild tale about a group of bored young college students seeking crazy unadulterated thrills to escape from what they believe to be mundane lives.  Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), and Cotty (Rachel Korine) barely have enough money to pursue their dream of spending their spring break in Florida.  Frustrated, the girls throw all caution to the wind and decide to rob a restaurant to acquire the necessary funds.

Once in Florida, the girls immerse themselves in drunken and drug laden debauchery.  Their fun hits a major road block when an out-of-control party draws the attention of local law enforcement. Depressed and desperate, the girls believe their vacation is over until a shady rapper/criminal named Alien (James Franco) bails them out. Just when the young ladies thought their spring break was getting wild and crazy, Alien sky rockets their vacation to a whole new level.

Korine’s writes and directs an incredible ride of a movie with a delicious mixture of darkness, levity, humor and violence. Not since Quentin Tarantino and Tony Scott’s True Romance, have I seen such a wonderful and wild mix work so well. To clarify, I must say that Korine does have a uniquely bizarre style as a director, so even though I compare this film to True Romance, audiences shouldn’t expect something similar.  Korine definitely has an “in your face” visually repetitive style which does work mostly well, but does he does wear it a bit thin by the end.  Nevertheless, I am not sure I have ever seen a film quite like Spring Breakers.  The experience really does over-stimulate and it certainly did take me some time to process it.

The film immerses the audience in the wild and debaucherous imagery of the spring break experience and takes it to the extreme. It serves to give audiences a portrait of today’s youth and where some of them are headed. Korine doesn’t pull punches and in the vein of shocking his audiences, the content does feel overly gratuitous and exploitive at times.  This movie clearly will not have universal appeal, nor does Korine attempt to win this either.

What also make the film so brilliant are the casting choices.  The fact that the producers cast Disney darlings Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens in the film makes the content that much more relevant.  In real life, the untamed youth do not always display tell-tale signs.  Some look like the normal “kids next door”. This film will certainly be the mature, breakthrough roles for Gomez and Hudgens who both perform wonderfully. The real star of the film, though, is James Franco.  He is absolutely perfect as the white rapper/thug Alien.  I think this may be his best performance on screen ever. His Saul character from Pineapple Express comes close, but doesn’t quite match the brilliance, dedication and immersion that his Alien character requires.

In fact I find it appropriate that Alien is the name given to his character because this role and the film itself almost seems otherworldly at times.  I absolutely loved this film, but am aware that plenty will hate it. I enjoyed Harmony Korine’s no holds barred approach and his ability to send up and demolish the conventions and clichés associated with “party” movies. I will only recommend this film to fans of Korine and those who like odd or bizarre movies.  For the more reserved and conservative, it would be best to stay away.

Spring Breakers was screened at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival and opens in Austin theaters on March 22.

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